B.C. mayors applaud agreement between province, UBCM to review municipal finance model

New funding model sought

Municipalities across B.C. are unified in their belief the current fiscal framework between the province and municipalities is broken.

The BC Urban Mayor's Caucus, representing 13 of the larger municipalities in the province, are applauding efforts announced this week to look at ways of fixing it.

Earlier this week, the Union of BC Municipalities and provincial ministers of finance and municipal affairs signed a memorandum of understanding to review the local government finance system.

“Municipalities across the province are bearing the burden of escalating costs that are further intensified by the ongoing health pandemic and the downloading of federal and provincial responsibilities by default rather than design,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, the co-chair of the mayor's caucus.

“A new, collaborative, and modernized fiscal relationship model that goes beyond property taxes is critical to the economic, social and environmental health of our communities. We look forward to a new model emerging that is fair and ensures the financial security and sustainability of communities across the province.

"While we recognize the need to get it right, we see the need for the work to be completed in a timely fashion to best serve B.C.’s communities.”

According to the province, the review will include discussions about cost pressures local governments may be experiencing around attainable housing, community safety and climate change, and the impact of the new economy.

Progress under the MOU will be made through a local government financial review working group made up of staff from the province and UBCM.

The group will review the local government finance system in B.C., analyze the recommendations in the UBCM report and discuss matters of mutual interest.


Lawsuit of the week: Airbnb goes to court in B.C. to block release of hosts’ names and addresses

Lawsuit of the week

Short-term rental company Airbnb is going to court to block the release of identifying information behind its operators under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

In a petition filed in BC Supreme Court on January 28, Airbnb Ireland UC claims the Information and Privacy Commissioner unreasonably ordered the City of Vancouver to release license numbers and addresses associated with short-term rental licenses in response to an FOI request by an unidentified “John Doe Requester.” The petition names the City of Vancouver, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, the Attorney General of British Columbia and John Doe as respondents.

Airbnb claims the commissioner wrongfully held that the records were not subject to sections of the act allowing public bodies to refuse disclosure where release of such records “could reasonably be expected to threaten an individual’s safety or mental or physical health.” Moreover, the company claims disclosing the records would unreasonably invade a third party’s privacy.

According to the petition, after Vancouver inked a deal with the company to license operators, Airbnb began providing the city with identifying information including names, license numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses “which the City can use to regulate STRs via its bylaws.” However, due to “safety and privacy concerns,” the municipal government does not post names, addresses, or contact information on its public open data portal.

Airbnb claims the John Doe Requester made two bids for information about short-term rental operators in March 2019. The City of Vancouver originally declined to release the information and the requestor sought a review of the decision by the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The commissioner ordered the records disclosed, finding the City couldn’t refuse access to the information “with the exception of records relating to one Airbnb host who is being stalked.” However, the order required the city to withhold operators’ names and addresses.

In seeking to quash the order for disclosure, Airbnb claims the commissioner didn’t properly determine whether there was a “reasonable expectation of probable harm to personal safety or property.” Both the city and the company submitted evidence about a host who had feared that “her stalker could locate her if her address and/or name were disclosed on the City’s Open Data Portal.”

Furthermore, the company claims the commissioner ignored the threat of online harassment and cyberbullying despite finding that disclosure of the records to the requestor “would be disclosure to the world.” The requestor, according to the petition, disparaged Airbnb operators in social media posts and is expected to publicize the information which could be used to “harass, threaten or abuse” short-term rental operators should their names and addresses become public.

Airbnb seeks an order quashing the commissioner’s decision and an order to prohibit the City of Vancouver from releasing the records. The petition’s factual basis has not been tested in court and the respondents had not filed replies to case by press time.

David vs Goliath as Victoria craft distillery faces off against Big Scotch

Facing down 'Big Scotch'

A David-versus-Goliath battle is heating up once again as a local craft distillery considers filing a trade complaint with German and European Union trade commissions after a threat of legal action scuttled its product’s distribution into Germany.

This is the latest salvo in an ongoing war between Victoria-based Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery and the Scotch Whisky Association. The association, whose governing council is controlled by the four largest scotch whisky multi-national corporations, last year filed a lawsuit to prevent the Victoria craft distillery from using Macaloney (its founder’s name), the words Island, Glenloy, Invermallie and others in its whisky branding.

“The lawsuit is just ridiculous,” said Graeme Macaloney, who founded the whisky business that bears his name in 2016. “What they’re saying is that I can’t use my own name.”

He named the brand’s Glenloy and Invermallie whiskies after locations where his clan lived for more than 1,000 years.

This time, the association has threatened the distillery’s German distributor with a lawsuit unless they stop importing Macaloney’s Canadian Best single malt whiskies. The distributor has just informed him that it is complying, suspending the import of his products into Germany, a growing market.

Macaloney said his troubles started after the distillery garnered top prizes at the 2020 World Whiskies Awards, including World’s Best New Make and Best Canadian Single Cask Single Malt.

This is not the first time a Canadian distillery has drawn the ire of the Scotch Whisky Association, which is known for its ferocity in protecting its share of the multibillion-dollar global whisky industry. It previously waged a losing nine-year fight with Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia to stop that distillery from using the word Glen (Gaelic for valley) in the name of its single malt whisky. The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently dismissed an appeal made by the association, with costs, in 2009.

Apart from the backing of a legion of Caledonian Distillery fans, support for Macaloney has come from the industry itself.

Scottish whisky expert Ralfy Mitchell accused the association of “cultural appropriation for the benefit of a single industry.”

“It seems that the Scottish Whisky Association is still ­harassing and scaring people who are of no threat to it at all or its country’s whiskies,” said Dominic Roskrow, a U.K. whisky writer.

Macaloney said he still needs to consult with stakeholders before he proceeds, but is urging supporters and whisky lovers to sign a petition letter to ramp up public pressure against what he calls a punitive lawsuit. Almost 1,000 letters have been sent so far, speaking against the association’s actions.

“We’re not trying to steal any customers from them. If anything small craft distilleries like ours are introducing so many new people to the industry,” said Macaloney, who is the official historian — or Seanchaidh — for his clan in Canada.


Vancouver Cold Case Files: The Babes in the Woods murder mystery still haunts the city

Revisiting historic cold case

The Babes in the Woods—the story of two young children found in Stanley Park just after the Second World War—is one of Vancouver's oldest and most fascinating murder mysteries.

While the murders happened sometime in the 1940s, the story starts in January 1953 when a Vancouver Parks Board employee stepped on a skull in a remote area of Stanley Park near Beaver Lake. When he scraped back the leaves, he found bones covered by a woman’s coat, two children’s flying helmets, shoes, a lunch box, and the murder weapon—a hatchet.

There wasn’t much in the way of crime scene forensics back in those days and police arrived, counted the layers of leaves to make a guess as to the number of years that the bones had been there, took a couple of photos, threw the bones and the rest of the evidence into a cardboard box and brought everything to the city morgue.

And even though it was difficult to determine the sex from the skeletal remains and both were dressed in boys' clothing, the pathologist wrote down that it was a boy and a girl. This mistake sent police down the wrong track for the next four decades as they searched school records and followed up on tips for missing brothers and sisters.

By 1996, DNA was part of the forensic toolkit, and the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit was formed to clear a backlog of unsolved murders. Now retired, Detective Sergeant Brian Honeybourn decided to take another look at the Babes in the Woods. Honeybourn took the remains to Dr. David Sweet, a forensic scientist at the University of British Columbia. Sweet extracted DNA from the teeth of the skeletons and discovered that they were actually two boys—brothers but with different fathers.

This discovery essentially threw out nearly half a century of police work. Detectives went back over all the tips that they had received over the years about two missing boys and checked them out, but there were likely dozens that hadn’t made the files because police had been looking for a brother and sister.

Once Sweet had extracted the DNA, Honeybourn thought it would be disrespectful to put the children’s bones back on public display, where they been at the Vancouver Police Museum and on loan at the annual PNE fair. He saved the skulls for possible future use, and without the knowledge of his superiors, had the rest of the bones cremated and buried at sea.

Unfortunately, the DNA profile developed from the children’s teeth in 1996 wasn’t good enough to submit to U.S.-based genealogy sites such as GEDMatch. At least not until last year, when technology improved to the point where DNA could be extracted from the bone matter. The children’s remains were forwarded to Redgrave Research Forensic Services in Massachusetts and they were able to produce the beginnings of a DNA profile. While their killer is likely long dead, this means that we are one step closer to giving the children back their names.

Next Week: Recent strides in the Babes in the Woods cold case investigation

For more information listen to Cold Case Canada podcast: Babes in the Woods

Eve Lazarus is a reporter and author, and she hosts and produces the Cold Case Canada true crime podcast. Her books include the B.C. bestsellers Murder by Milkshake; Blood, Sweat, and Fear; Cold Case Vancouver and Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History. She blogs at Every Place has a Stor.y

B.C. clerk says she didn't see rationale for predecessor's retirement benefit

Corruption trial resumes

British Columbia's clerk of the legislative assembly says she returned a retirement benefit that was also awarded to her predecessor because she felt "uncomfortable" with it and found the size "very concerning."

Kate Ryan-Lloyd, who was Craig James's deputy at the time of the 2012 payment, told a B.C. Supreme Court trial that she gave back the $118,000 benefit after James failed to provide her with a good explanation to justifying the payment.

James's trial has heard his own claim of a nearly $287,000 retirement allowance is the largest sum in a string of payments that prompted allegations that he used public funds for personal benefit.

"It was not right to hold onto these funds. I did not see a rationale for holding them," Ryan-Lloyd told the court on Friday.

Ryan-Lloyd said that when she told James she intended to return her allotment, he said, "Well you can do what you want but I'm keeping mine."

James has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust by a public officer.

The trial is unfolding more than three years after he was escorted from the legislature in 2018 amid an RCMP investigation into the allegations.

The prosecution has said the case rests on three main areas: the retirement allowance, the purchase of a trailer and wood splitter, and travel expense claims.

Ryan-Lloyd was appointed deputy clerk in 2011 while James was named clerk, a role likened in court to that of a CEO responsible for the administration of the legislature. She assumed James's role after he was placed on administrative leave.

Ryan-Lloyd told the court that she first learned of the retirement benefit in late 2011 when two members of the clerk's office announced plans to leave their jobs and sought payment.

The court has heard the allowance was created in 1984 for officers who did not qualify for public pension plans or executive benefit packages, but that the payment structure for those officers changed in 1987.

Ryan-Lloyd testified that James was initially "skeptical" of the two members' claims to the benefit and told her that for advice, he retained a lawyer, with whom he frequently mentioned spending an "enormous" amount of time consulting on the issue.

On Feb. 10, 2012, she said, James told her that based on legal advice, then-Speaker Bill Barisoff had determined the retirement benefit was still effective and both she and James qualified.

"That was very surprising news to me, and I had many questions and concerns at that point," she said.

Barisoff advised the program should be terminated and all outstanding claims should be paid out to eliminate ongoing liability to the legislative assembly, she told the court.

Ryan-Lloyd asked James as much as she could about the how eligibility was determined and why she and James would be included, she said. She also met with Barisoff, who confirmed the decision, she said.

The funds were deposited in her account Feb. 17, 2012, but she said she did not spend any of it.

"Things had moved very quickly that week and I had to consider how to proceed. I knew I needed to reflect on what had happened," she testified.

Ryan-Lloyd told the court she began asking questions again after an audit team reviewing financial records of the legislative assembly noticed the substantive payments and sought more information.

The team was appointed after a 2012 report from the auditor general's office critical of financial management at the legislature.

Both Ryan-Lloyd and the audit team repeatedly asked James to forward the documentation and he said he would but never did, she said.

"I began to get quite direct and I said, 'Could I please have a copy so I can provide it to (the auditor) and I can satisfy myself as well,'" she said.

Ryan-Lloyd testified that she had assumed, when James consulted a lawyer, that he had obtained a written legal opinion on the benefit with formal recommendations outlining a process for determining eligibility.

James told Ryan-Lloyd to ask his administrative staff for the documentation, she said, but they came up empty-handed.

When she returned to James, he told her to look for it at the Speaker's office, she said. Staff at the Speaker's office said they did not have documentation either, she said.

"I was quite humiliated and drew a conclusion at that point that there was no documentation," Ryan-Lloyd testified.

Ryan-Lloyd wrote a formal letter to document her decision to return the funds and formally release the legislative assembly of any further commitment to her relating to the retirement benefit.

"When there was no documentation, it became clear to me that this was not a transaction I felt comfortable with," she said.

Ryan-Lloyd told the court she only saw a legal document relating to the benefit payments in 2019, after a report by then-Speaker Darryl Plecas detailing the misspending allegations against James.

It was drafted by the same lawyer consulted by James and dated September 2013, months after she returned the money, she said.

She described it as a brief document summarizing verbal legal advice, rather than the formal written legal opinion she had expected.

Ryan-Lloyd was also asked about documents that were brought to the court's attention Thursday, causing a delay.

One document is a calculation of retirement benefit payouts.

Another is a letter from Barisoff to James dated January 2013, amending the policy for approving the clerk's travel expenses by delegating authority to the executive financial officer to review and approve them on the Speaker's behalf.

Ryan-Lloyd said she didn't recall the letter, although she was copied on it, and described it as "unusual" because she didn't believe any formal travel expense policy existed for the clerk until 2019.

40% of last month's COVID deaths come from long-term care homes

40% of deaths in care homes

This month alone, 174 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

During Friday's press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry disclosed about 40 per cent of these deaths are connected to outbreaks within long-term care homes. During the rapid rise in cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the past month, outbreaks within B.C. healthcare facilities, including care homes, have skyrocketed.

As of Friday, there are 46 active long-term care home outbreaks in the province, 12 of which are in the Interior.

“About 40 per cent of the people who've died in this month, have been related to outbreaks in long term care,” Dr. Henry said Friday. “Most of the people who are dying outside of those outbreaks are older people with underlying illnesses. A high proportion of them are people who don't have the protection from vaccination.”

A very high percentage of long-term care residents in B.C. have been vaccinated, in addition to their booster dose, and Dr. Henry said they're generally seeing “very mild illness” among residents. But she noted the BC CDC counts anyone who dies within 30 days of testing positive for the virus as a COVID death.

“We've always recognized that COVID could play a role in those people's deaths,” she said.

She added that in the past week, two people in their 40s have died from COVID-19.

“The younger [deaths] tend to be people who are not yet vaccinated and don't have that protection, and many have other underlying causes, as we know,” she said.

But since the beginning of the pandemic, age has been the number one risk factor for getting seriously ill or dying from the virus. The median age of COVID deaths in B.C. is 82, and about 40 per cent of the province's deaths have been among people 70 and older.

BC Parks reveals new improved reservation system, website

Camping website improved

BC Parks is redesigning its much-maligned website and online reservation system.

The system comes under scrutiny every spring when reservations open for the coming camping season, prompting a surge of online traffic, straining web servers and filling popular sites vanishingly fast.

"More people every year are getting out and connecting with nature and green space in our beautiful BC Parks. It's key to our health and well-being," said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

"We've engaged with people over the past two years and we've heard the call for improvements to the reservation service and the need to build a more reliable, easy-to-use service system."

Opening March 21, the new reservation service will be available through the BC Parks website and will include key features such as:

  • more flexible search options to find and book a campsite;
  • maps, calendars and lists of available sites for quicker navigation;
  • saved booking preferences and locations within customer accounts; and
  • as many as five large photos per campsite.

A new beta version of the site is live, and the government is seeking feedback.

"We are all looking forward to another summer of camping and outdoor recreation, and demand for campsites in popular locations will continue to be high. The improved website and reservation system will make the B.C. camping experience even better,” "We live in a province where people have a deep appreciation for parks and the environment," said Kelly Greene, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment.

People can book a campsite at most campgrounds two months ahead of their desired arrival date. Reservations for group campsites open March 24 for the rest of the year and reservations for the popular Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit will open in early April, with availability between May and September. The Berg Lake Trail does not have an anticipated opening date due to damage caused by severe flooding in the summer.

COVID-positive hospitalizations increased by 1.3% in B.C.

2,137 new cases, 9 deaths

COVID hospitalizations increased by a little more than one per cent Friday.

The province is reporting 2,137 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours, bringing the province's active cases to 30,515. Of these cases, 990 people are now hospitalized, an increase of 13 since Thursday. Those in ICU have remained steady, at 141.

Active cases in the province rose by 959 since Thursday.

Of Friday's new cases, 569 came from the Interior. There are now 7,969 active cases in the region, and 121 people in the Interior hospitalized with COVID-19. Of these, 22 are being treated in critical care.

Another nine new COVID deaths have been reported throughout B.C. in the past 24 hours, including five in Fraser Health, three in Vancouver Coastal Health and one in Northern Health. To date, 2,597 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

The new/active cases include:

  • 740 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 12,928
  • 394 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 6,788
  • 569 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 7,969
  • 170 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 1,170
  • 264 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 1,654

There have been seven new healthcare facility outbreaks in B.C., including at Kelowna's Cottonwoods Care Centre. There are now 58 ongoing outbreaks at healthcare facilities across the province.

In the past 24 hours, 44,552 doses of the vaccine were administered in B.C. As of Thursday, 89.8% of eligible people five and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83.8% have received their second dose. To date, 43.9% of all eligible people 12 and older have received their third booster dose.

For the second day in a row, the province has not released the data on hospitalizations and deaths by vaccine status.

BC Vaccine Card requirement for 12 year olds adjusted

Vax card fix for 12 year olds

The B.C. government is fixing a proof of vaccine loophole involving 12 year olds.

The government announced Friday 12 year olds now only need one dose of the vaccine to be allowed into settings where proof of vaccination is required.

"It has been reported to public health that 11-year-olds who have had one dose of pediatric vaccine and are able to enter these settings are then blocked from entry when they turn 12 because they only have one dose of vaccine and have not had time to get a second dose," says a news release from the B.C. Ministry of Health.

The change is designed to make it fair for this age group, while they are waiting for the recommended time to receive their second dose.

As previously announced, the provincial health officer order on gatherings and events is being updated to remove the prohibition on individual or group fitness, exercise and dance exercise, allowing these to happen with the safety requirements in place. This change took effect on Jan. 20, 2022.

The order also allows sports tournaments for children and youth starting Feb. 1, 2022, but adult sports tournaments remain prohibited.

Maple Ridge mother identified as victim in isolated fatal Coquitlam stabbing

Mother stabbed to death

A 32-year-old mother of young children died in hospital from a stabbing in a Coquitlam underground parkade this week.

Ramina Shah was identified as the victim of the fatal Austin Heights incident Thursday (Jan. 27) and police believe this was not a random attack.

There are no suspects in custody at this time and there's no evidence the Maple Ridge resident is linked to ongoing gang violence in the Lower Mainland, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).

"We did receive some background information from other witnesses and people that know her," explains spokesperson IHIT David Lee during a virtual news conference today (Jan. 28), who hopes releasing Shah's photo can help find witnesses who may have seen her.

"That information, with a combination of the things we've seen at the scene lead us to believe this as an isolated incident and not random."

Shah was found with stab wounds when Coquitlam RCMP were called to the scene in the 1100-block of Austin Avenue around 4:30 p.m.

Lee said she had just completed her work in one of the nearby businesses and was walking to her vehicle before a suspect(s) stabbed her.

Investigators are examining the scene, as of this publication, but are also hoping residents who may have witnessed the incident, or has dashcam or CCTV footage, can come forward to help.

Lee was not able to elaborate when asked by Tri-City News about potential security camera footage in or near the parkade.

"We're hoping that anyone who has a parked car there that has motion sensors, and they turn on, to please provide that footage."

Lee is asking those who were travelling or parked along Austin Avenue between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to potentially provide a statement or video.

Anyone with details or tips about the fatal incident is strongly encouraged to call IHIT at 1-877-551-4448 or email [email protected]

In the meantime, IHIT says it's working on the case with members of Coquitlam RCMP, the Integrated Forensic Identification Section (IFIS) and the BC Coroners Service.

Some B.C. COVID restrictions could lift by mid-February

Looking to lift restrictions

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m.

If B.C. continues to see a decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks, some restrictions on social gatherings could be lifted by Family Day.

On the two-year anniversary of B.C.'s first identified COVID-19 case, Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a recap Friday of the province's pandemic over the past two years.

On Jan. 28, 2020, the province first announced that a man in his 40s had returned to B.C. from Wuhan, China and tested positive for COVID-19.

Since then, the province has seen five separate waves of COVID-19 over the past two years, with a total of 318,906 positive tests. The current Omicron-driven wave has caused the highest level of active cases and hospitalizations the province has seen.

“Each of these waves have had their unique challenges and our response has adapted to that. We have made extraordinary societal efforts and these efforts have saved countless lives,” Dr. Henry said.

“We have been on an incredibly long and arduous journey, and no, I didn't think we'd be on this phase of the journey for this long, but it is the reality that we have to accept.”

With the current widespread transmission of the Omicron variant in the province, Dr. Henry once again noted that contact tracing is no longer an effective tool to control the virus, and B.C.'s testing has been overwhelmed.

“Because the virus has changed, we needed to reset our control strategies,” she said. “Contact tracing is not something that works with this degree of spread and it's not possible to test everyone, so we need to focus our testing on those people who need it most.”

But she noted that new case counts have been recently decreasing, and she hopes the province is seeing a peak in hospitalizations. With this, she hopes to be able to lift some COVID-19 restrictions by Family Day.

“People have a level of immunity because we've stepped up for booster doses ... if we are continuing on this trajectory then yes, I do hope that we will be able to lift some of those restrictions and gradually get back to those needed connections,” Dr. Henry said.

“We can look ahead to a time when we have enough immunity and we have enough control that we can start to open up again, and we can take these extraordinary measures away ... We're looking towards the middle of February, Family Day, when we can start to get back to doing some more things again.”

Data shared during Friday's press conference shows the success B.C. has had in reducing deaths and hospitalizations by COVID-19 compared to other provinces. Currently, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 people in B.C. is lower than Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario.

When asked if she has any regrets on how she's handled the pandemic over the past two years, Dr. Henry said she could have done better at communicating major changes in the province's pandemic strategies when the virus changed.

“If I could do anything over, it would be to be clearer in some of those communications, particularly at those stressful times when things are changing,” Dr. Henry said.

She added a paraphrasing of a Maya Angelou quote that has guided her over the past two years: “Do the best with what you know, and when you know better, do better.”

ORIGINAL: 11:55 a.m.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix provide an update on COVID-19 in British Columbia.

Caribou maternity pen near Nakusp gets go-ahead

Caribou maternity pen ready

A conservation group in Nakusp has been given permission to operate a caribou maternity pen this spring.

The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society has built a fenced-in area near Nakusp to allow seven to eight females from the tiny Central Selkirk caribou herd to safely birth and care for their newborns, said one of the organizers.

“They are captured via helicopter by very specialized and expert crews, temporarily sedated and transported to a staging area near the maternity pen,” says Hugh Watt, describing the operation. “Final transport will probably be by snowmobile and skimmer to the pen where they quickly undergo assessment and then sedation is reversed.”

The capture operation will occur around mid-March, and the animals give birth in May. They’ll be released from the pen around August, Watt says. However, much of the timing depends on weather and snow conditions.

“There are many challenges to the capture, which are mitigated by thorough planning, training, and expert handling,” he says. “The exact release timing is usually dependent on how long calves have been in the pen and other parameters such as the temperature.”

The pen is located on a bench above the Nakusp Hot Springs, on municipal property. The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society has received funds to maintain and operate the pen this year. While they’ve secured core funding from the Province, Watt says they’re still applying for grants to fully pay for the project.

Watt says the maternity pen may represent one of the last best ways to save the endangered herd. Only 28 animals – 26 adults and two calves – were spotted in the area in 2021.

“The fact that this is the southernmost remaining herd of mountain caribou in North America makes this herd worthy of a lot of focus and effort,” says Watt, adding that conservation groups in the northern US were watching progress carefully. “There are no guarantees of success but it is worth the risk to try to help reverse the downward trends.”

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